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Flo Braker's Pains d'Amande

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Every week, Food52's Senior Editor Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that are nothing short of genius.

Today: A cookie for all your gifting, swapping, and impressing needs this holiday season.

almond cookies

- Kristen

Do you wish you were the sort of person who kept a tidy, well-planned cache of cookie dough in your freezer, instead of things like near-empty pints of ice cream and fossilized bananas that may, but most likely will not, become banana bread?

This is your chance!

(Or if you're already that person, smile smugly to yourself and add this recipe to your file.)

These crisp almond wafers could not be easier to make, or exude more fanciness. Double win. They come to us from Flo Braker, a self-taught baking expert and cookbook author (pictured below), by way of David Lebovitz, by way of our own Rivka -- who tipped me off to their genius, calling them "The Best Tea Cookies on the Planet".

Flo Braker  sweet miniatures

Braker considers this her signature cookie, and has tested and refined all chances of failure right out of it.

This is all you have to do: You gently melt together raw sugar, butter, water and cinnamon, leaving some of the sugar crunchy, then add sliced almonds and flour. No creaming, no pulsing, just stirring.

almond cookies  almond cookies  almond cookies

To get that mod, I-am-so-not-a-drop-cookie shape, you don't have to roll anything out or use a special mold. Just press it into a loaf pan (you know, the one you're not making banana bread in) and bundle it in plastic wrap, then chill it till it's firm enough to slice. Or if you're impatient (or planning ahead, you model entertainer), freeze it.

almond cookies  almond cookies  almond cookies

Then whenever you're ready for cookies, you can peel them off in skinny tan-colored slices, cross-hatched with snips of almond. A serrated knife is your ally here.

A note: If your loaf pan is angled (like they usually are), it will give you barely sloping trapezoids instead of those perfect tiles shaped like sticks of gum. If you worry about this, you can just shave a little extra off the sides of the block to tidy it up. And because there's no egg in the dough, there's nothing to stop you from really going to town on the scraps.

pains d'amande  almond cookies  pains d'amande

Then you just bake, flipping once so they brown up into wands of caramel, brown butter and almond that snap under your teeth.

They're dry and buttery-crisp without being too fragile, so they'll ship well cross-country or pack up neatly in a tin for a cookie exchange or hostess gift. But as Rivka points out, the best part is you can also slice off a few cookies whenever you see fit. "It's a great arrangement ... I err on the side of caution and bake up about 10 at a time — you know, just in case."

pains d'amande

Flo Braker's Pains D'Amande

Makes 7 dozen 1 1/2-inch squares

From Sweet Miniatures by Flo Braker (Chronicle Books, 2000)

2 1/3 cups (325g) unsifted all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into quarters
1 1/3 cups (300g) Hawaiian washed raw sugar, or turbinado or demerara
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 cup water
3 ounces (1 cup) sliced almonds

See a slideshow and the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Want more genius? Try Paul Bertolli's Cauliflower Soup

Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].

Photos by James Ransom

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